Don't Follow

Album: Jar of Flies (1994)
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  • "Don't Follow" is a sad conversation partly sung by guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell and partly sung by vocalist Layne Staley. The split isn't merely an artistic novelty. The parts represent two halves of a parting discussion. Jar of Flies producer Toby Wright opened this window into the song when, in Alice in Chains: The Untold Story by David de Sola, he explained that Cantrell developed the "two-sides-to-the-story type of thing" split-vocal concept.

    In the song, Cantrell is trying to break off his relationship with Staley because it's become too painful to try to save him from his self-destruction. It begins with Cantrell singing the opening verse:

    Hey, I ain't never coming home
    Hey, I'll just wander my own road
    Hey, hey, I can't meet you here tomorrow, no
    Say goodbye, don't follow
    Misery so hollow

    Hey you, you're livin' life full throttle
    Hey you, pass me down that bottle, yeah
    Hey, hey you, you can't shake me 'round now
    I get so lost and don't know how, yeah
    And it hurts to care, I'm going down

    Staley then comes in, speaking as the wayward other half.

    Ooh, forgot my woman, lost my friends
    Things I'd done and where I've been
    Sleep in sweat, the mirror's cold
    See my face, it's growin' old
    Scared to death, no reason why
    Do whatever to get me by
    Think about the things I said
    Read the page, it's cold and dead
    And take me home
    Yeah, take me home, oh oh
    Take me home
    Take me home, yeah
    Take me home

    The sad, closing response that meets Staley's desperate request is poignant in its brevity: "Say goodbye, don't follow."
  • The story works as a universal tale of people growing apart, but it rings too true to the actual Alice in Chains situation to believe it was anything but biographical. At the time they recorded the song for their third EP, Jar of Flies, Staley was deeply mired in heroin addiction. Problems started to arise with the previous recording, Dirt, but now they were coming to a head. Staley entered rehab just after they completed the EP, but it didn't take. He quickly relapsed while rehearsing for a tour with Danzig, Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies, and Fight. AIC had to drop out and were replaced by Candlebox. His final performance with the band came in 1996 after a rocky couple of years. He died from a speedball overdose in 2002.

    Cantrell was the driving force behind AIC. Disciplined, focused, and ambitious, he led the band to fame. He and Staley were close friends, but Cantrell also had a business to run and decisions to make.

    The biographical interpretation also makes sense knowing that AIC from their inception determined to make emotionally raw music that drew directly from their lived experiences. It was their philosophy that only honest, personal songs could be performed with real conviction.
  • It's strange to think of Cantrell and Staley writing and recording this song of separation while still together, but it wouldn't be the first time such a thing happened. "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac had Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks singing about their own breakup essentially as it was happening. "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes was performed at every show long after frontman Alex Ebert and frontwoman Jade Castrinos broke up.
  • Staley never performed "Don't Follow" live with AIC. The band didn't perform it at all until September 25, 2006, nearly 10 years after its release and four years after Staley died. New AIC vocalist William DuVall sang it, as he did for its many performances during the 2006-2007 AIC reunion tour.
  • This is the theme song for the Instagram TV series titled Mind Wide Open. Lily Cornell Silver, wife of deceased Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, hosts the series.
  • "Don't Follow" was the third single released off Jar of Flies, following "No Excuses" and "I Stay Away." After going out on October 1994, it spent seven weeks on the US Mainstream Rock chart and peaked at #25 on the week of December 3.


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